Washington, D.C., rappers punch ticket to North Korea

The Washington Post

“Are you ready?” Ramsey Aburdene demands of the assembled buoyant audience. “Are you ready to go to North Korea?”

The fans cheer at The Dunes in Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. They are ready, if not to go to North Korea, then to see Aburdene and his two musical proteges go to North Korea in two weeks to make a rap music video on a party bus.

This journey began in August, when a fundraising plea appeared on Kickstarter featuring “Pacman” and “Peso,” two local young men. Their goal? Six thousand dollars, plane tickets to the most repressive regime in the world, and then fame and glory. The Washington Post published a story on this endeavor, which people found equal parts quixotic and bizarre, optimistic and idiotic. Even earnest supporters wondered whether the trip could possibly come to pass.

But then, a hedge-fund manager named James Passin donated $5,100, the remaining money needed. Pacman and Peso, whose real names are Anthony Bobb and Dontray Ennis, applied for passports and visas. Dates were set. The rappers, aspiring music producer Aburdene and North Korea expert Michael Bassett will spend Thanksgiving in Pyongyang.

Thursday night at the Dunes was their official goodbye, as well as a performance of songs from their debut mix tape, “Coming Soon,” recorded primarily in Aburdene’s walk-in closet.

“If someone had told me a year ago this would happen, I would have thought, that guy is crazy,” Pacman — lithe, goofy — said before the event.

“I would have believed it 50 percent,” said Peso, the more serious of the two.

The two have yet to write the song that they will record in Pyongyang, reasoning that part of the point of the trip is to be inspired by new locations, and they can’t be inspired until they actually visit them. They do have a beat picked out, though, and Bassett has been meeting with an officially sanctioned tour agency to make sure their music will be acceptable to the state.

Their trip will begin with a stopover in Beijing, where Pacman and Peso, who do not own suits, plan to take advantage of the country’s inexpensive tailoring and purchase the formal attire required for visiting the embalmed body of deceased dictator Kim Jong Il.

“I can’t get no happier,” said Peso, his normally solemn face splitting into a broad grin. “I can’t get no happier.”

“Yet,” Pacman corrected him, envisioning the trip and everything he hopes will come after it. “Yet.”